Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan - FAQ

Why was Mount Sutro Open Space Reserve Vegetation Management Plan needed?

California’s multi-year drought and other factors caused significant decline in tree health, threatening both public safety and the long-term sustainability of the Reserve. Independent experts surveyed the forest and found abundant evidence to indicate that the existing forest would have continued to decline due to tree overcrowding, climate change, and insects and diseases now present in the Reserve. The only path to healthy, diverse vegetation involves active management and reforestation.

Will UCSF preserve Mount Sutro or does UCSF want to develop the land?

UCSF is committed to maintaining the Reserve as a public resource that San Francisco residents and visitors can enjoy. In 1976, the Regents of the University of California designated the Reserve as permanent open space, and UCSF has dedicated significant resources to ensuring the health, safety and accessibility of the Reserve. UCSF cannot develop the land because the open space designation prevents the construction of any new buildings in the Reserve. In 2021, UCSF re-affirmed its commitment to the reserve and maintaining 61 contiguous acres.

Will Mount Sutro still feel like an urban forest?

One of the goals of the management plan is to restore the tree canopy and preserve the “forest-like” feel of the Reserve.  In areas that have become deforested by dead or dying trees, the plan calls for tree replanting. To enhance biodiversity, UCSF has also designated five acres, spread out in small pockets throughout the Reserve, for native plant species regeneration, which totals approximately 8% of the land area of the Reserve.

How many trees will be affected by the management plan?

Prior to the development of the plan, an independent survey of the forest determined that out of the approximately 14,000 trees in the Reserve, around 3,500 were standing dead and many more were dying. The exact number of trees to be removed is unknown because the trees to be removed will be determined by tree health and viability in targeted areas over the course of the 20-year plan. The priority will be to remove dead and dying trees near trails, roads, structures and neighboring homes that pose a hazard. As part of the replanting effort, dead and dying trees will be removed in targeted areas to make way for young and vigorous trees to begin to regenerate the tree canopy.

What is the Environmental Impact Review process?

The California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA) requires an Environmental Impact Report (EIR) to assess environmental impacts of the proposed plan.  The purpose of this detailed report is to analyze the effects of the proposed project on the local environment, such as air quality, noise, wildlife, and aesthetics and to propose actions to mitigate the identified effects where possible. Read the Final Environmental Impact Report for the Mount Sutro plan »

What is Alternative 4, and why did you adopt it in place of the original plan?

An EIR includes an analysis of possible alternatives to the project, and our analysis found that one of the project alternatives studied, Alternative 4, was determined to be environmentally superior to the proposed plan. Alternative 4’s variations included a change to the tree planting species mix in the first five years of implementation. The original plan proposed to replant only eucalyptus trees in the first five years. Alternative 4 proposes a planting mix of 75% eucalyptus and 25% native species during that phase of the work. Also, tree replanting areas will be smaller and further away from trails so as not to disrupt the visual experience and enjoyment of visitors.

Who approved the plan?

UCSF's Chancellor approved the plan and certified the EIR on April 30, 2018. UCSF began implementation in September 2018.

Will you prioritize native species over the non-native species in the Reserve?

Eucalyptus trees are part of the cultural heritage of Mount Sutro. The plan seeks to achieve a balance between preserving the eucalyptus canopy, which is non-native, and also increasing the number of native plants and trees to improve the health of the Reserve by increasing biodiversity.

Will herbicides be used to maintain the Reserve?

No herbicides are used in the Reserve. All maintenance work is performed by hand and mechanical tools by UCSF staff and volunteers or goats to control vegetation growth.

Why doesn’t UCSF just leave it alone?

Mount Sutro is a popular urban forest, and the large number of dead and dying trees poses a safety hazard. UCSF’s top priority in the Reserve is to ensure the safety of Reserve users and adjoining campus and neighboring properties, which requires vegetation management. If the forest is not managed, a greater loss of trees will occur over time as the current rate of tree death continues or even increases. As trees die, there will be a subsequent increase in fire hazard, among other negative effects.

Are you planning to clear-cut trees? 

No, the trees will not be clear-cut, which means all trees in a stand are removed. We will remove unhealthy trees. Hazardous trees are marked individually based on tree health and whether tree failure would impact trails, roads or structures. In areas in which most of the trees are dead or dying, established forestry methods would be used to remove select trees to create openings of .25 acres or less for tree replanting to regenerate the tree canopy.  

Will removing trees and underbrush cause landslides?

Both the Management Plan and the Environmental Impact Report (EIR) address landslide risks. The EIR was written with the input of qualified geologists and hydrologists who recommended strategies to mitigate erosion and landslide risk, which are part of standard forestry practice. Ways to reduce landslide potential include stabilizing soils using natural materials; avoiding work in historically unstable soil when it's wet; and using structures and materials such as culverts, logs, rocks and vegetation to stabilize soils and minimize erosion. If trees are removed on steep slopes, various methods can be used to stabilize the slopes prior to and after removal until new vegetation has set roots. These methods are included in the vegetation management plan.

Will removing trees and underbrush dry out the forest and create more fire danger? 

No, removing dead trees and “ladder fuels” from parts of the Reserve will not make it more fire-prone or dry out the forest. Certain small trees and shrubs act as a ladder to move a fire up into the canopy of the forest, increasing fire risk. Removal of these ladder fuels reduces the amount of material that could fuel a fire.

When will work begin in the Reserve?

UCSF began implementation in fall of 2018. Bird-nesting season runs from March through August, which means work will only occur from September through February each year to avoid any disruption or harm wildlife. The work will be completed gradually over the next 20 years – small areas will be treated and replanted each year and assessed through each phase of implementation to ensure the goals of improving the overall health of the forest are being met.

What impact will the implementation have on neighbors?

UCSF will notify neighbors in advance of work taking place near their homes. Our “good neighbor” policy limits noisy work near neighboring homes to 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on weekdays. Weekend work in the Reserve is rare, but if necessary, noisy work hours are 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. To stay informed about the plan, please sign up for UCSF’s community updates.

How will the work impact visitors who like to hike and bike in the Reserve?

Public access will be maintained throughout all phases of implementation. Some trails may need to be temporarily closed for safety reasons while work is performed.  All trail closures will have appropriate signage instructing visitors to avoid the area and will reopen as soon as work is complete and the trail is safe for visitors.